Thursday, April 23, 2009

How three Jeff B's changed my life

Got a call back in June of 1999 from my mother. Apparently, local musician Jeff Barbush (of the Painkillers and the Deadbeats) committed suicide.

This troubled me greatly. Jeff was the reason I wanted to learn the guitar. He gave me my first guitar lesson.

My mom used to date his dad many years ago at Webster Groves Senior High. Years later, both were married with children, and at some point, they ran into each other when I was around 9 or so. Somehow, we all ended up hanging out one day, and Jeff, excited that we had a cassette tape recorder, convinced us to let him use it (along with his) to record a sound-on-sound version of the Beatles' "All My Loving", complete with guitar, vocals, harmony vocals and audience cheers. I was quite impressed, and asked him to teach me some guitar, which he did. After that, I began taking lessons with a local guitar instructor, and took an informal after-school class, as well. I was hooked, of course.

Not long ago, when Googling "Jeff Barbush", I happened upon this article in the Riverfront Times. I was surprised to learn that local drummer Lori Blue (of Johnny Magnet) also committed suicide, also in June of 1999. I only knew her as Lori, but had an opportunity to play with her in the band Alchemy for a rehearsal or two, and saw her play in another band, the name of which escapes me. I also remember seeing her working in one of the record shops in the Central West End.

When I was about 11, I had befriended another Jeff B. at our apartment complex. I liked hanging out with him, because his parents spoiled him a bit (he was an only child), so he had lots of "neat stuff", including an electric guitar. So we became jam buddies at that point. He taught me a few things on the guitar, we rode bikes together, and we had a good time.

Years later, in late 1994, while perusing the new and used CDs at a local shop, I came across a promo copy of Jeff Buckley's Grace. At the time, he was virtually unknown. But the CD piqued my interest, so I gave it a listen.

The second track - "Grace" - had me hooked. It wasn't the vocals that did it; it was the sound of the low D in the bass, juxtaposed with a D major chord high up on the guitar, and then the somewhat unexpected move to E minor. I really dug it, so naturally, I bought it! After that, I played it for anyone who happened to come by. Unfortunately, when I heard he was stopping in town, I didn't go. He was, somewhat unfortunately, known as a chick magnet.. a pretty boy. Of course, I really regret not having gone to see him.

If you aren't familiar, he drowned accidentally back in 1997 while swimming in Memphis - seemingly a tragic loss for the music world, but perhaps he accomplished what he intended to in his short life. He is certainly well-known now, especially for his beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", which has been featured in many TV shows and whatnot.

Of the three Jeff B's, only my friend from the apartment complex is still with us. I still see him online every now and then.


joetom said...

Sigh. I just found out about Jeff Barbush late last night. Found that article and your blog while trying to figure out what happened.

Jeff was one of my best friends in high school and at Mizzou. When I left st louis I lost track of everyone, started a new life in upstate NY.

I was in a fake-fun punk band with Jeff and Dewey Nicks for a few months. The Rip. I designed his logo for his first band Midnight. I'm pretty sure I still got a cassette tape of The Painkillers buried some where.

I just dug out my yearbook, and re read what he wrote. He was such a wise ass. Haha.

But yeah, I'm bummed, but I'm glad a great guy like that made a memorable mark on your life as he did mine.

Thanks for the nice write up about him.


Unknown said...

Jeff Barbush was an awesome song writer. I would have liked to have seen his full potential realized. Hell of a guy, too. Thanks for this blog.